A couple of quick thoughts off of the top here. First, this felt like one of the longest Cub games of the year (and as it turned out, it was the longest nine-inning game the Cubs have played in 2023). I didn’t check any numbers before sitting down to write. I’ve definitely loved quicker baseball this season, but if the White Sox want to initiate a slow moving train wreck that more or less gift wraps another win, I’ll let it take its time.
My second thought is that I love when the Cubs win a game and I’m not entirely sure who the Superhero is going to be. If you’ve never noticed, the picture that accompanies Heroes and Goats everyday features the Superhero. So there, you know there is a spoiler alert every time. The nature of the way the website works for writing is that the headline and the picture are right at the top, so I’m putting a picture and a headline up there before I’ve even started writing. Short story long, I hadn’t puzzled out who are Superhero was in this one before it happened. Though I certainly had the pitcher who is on the Hero podium as one of the frontrunners.
Third, how wild is it that the Cubs have the longest active winning streak in baseball? At five games, the Cubs have the longest streak. That matches their longest of the season. The last one that was longer? If your memory is as short as mine, you’ll have forgotten that the Cubs won games 153 to 159 last year, seven straight, to reach a “high” point of 13 under .500. That was actually part of a stretch of 11 wins in 12 games. They are at seven of eight right now. Would a four-game sweep in St. Louis be the sweetest thing since beating them in the playoffs or what? That franchise has such a proud history that any win over them feels like a special victory.
This one was so wacky. Al has given you the lowlights, of which there were plenty, and then the highlights, which there end up being even more of. But I’ll do something I’ve done previously where there was a big comeback. Let’s walk through the fifth inning through the eyes of WPA.
Actually, let me step backwards for a second. Eloy Jimenez batted with the bases loaded and one out against Marcus Stroman, the Sox already up three. That guy just wears out the Cubs, doesn’t he? Two hits and four runs batted in is a pretty awesome night. He doubled here, chasing Stroman as the lead grew to five. That increased the Sox’ chance of winning to 96.5 percent. Javier Assad got a strikeout and a ground out to escape further trouble. The Sox chances of winning dropped to 94 percent. Outlook still not good.
Mike Tauchman singles (that guy is in the middle of everything isn’t he?). The Sox win probability drops to 92. Nico Hoerner is hit by a pitch - 88.4 percent. Ian Happ singles and the first run scores - 82.2 percent. Cody Bellinger flies out, Hoerner moving up one base - 85.4 percent. Seiya Suzuki walks to load the bases - 81.3 percent and Tom turns on the game for the first time.
Dansby Swanson is up and I’ll admit, I was hoping to catch a game tying grand slam, particularly after Suzuki robbed the Sox of a grand slam in their comeback attempt the night before. Swanson struck out though - 87.6 percent. I thought it was a fun duel between two vets, some cat and mouse but Lynn made a nice pitch that Swanson was caught off guard for a third strike swinging.
But Christopher Morel! I’m not giving up on this yet. The kid has some flare for the dramatic. And there it is, he singles and two runs score while White Sox left fielder has a bit of an adventure trying to corral the ball. The error is fair, Suzuki almost certainly doesn’t make third without the bobble. But Morel should absolutely notch two runs batted in there. Ian Happ never broke stride. To be fair, I thought he was going to be out fairly easy at home, but I don’t know how you can assume an out at the plate. Under any circumstances, that’s a tough play.
With two runs in, the Cubs trail by two - 75.6 percent. Then Morel steals second - 74.1 percent. But we hit the bottom of the order. And then Miles Mastrobuoni executed a move that I mastered playing little league baseball so many years ago. I’ve told my kids dozens of times that I used to swing at clearly wild pitches with two strikes knowing I’d reach on a dropped third strike. I was also hit by a lot of pitches. You do what you can when you understand the game but aren’t a talented hitter. Anyway, I’ve watched Sammy Sosa and Corey Patterson and Alfonso Soriano and Javier Báez flail at some pretty gnarly third strikes and not really react to the ball bouncing away. To be fair, if I could hit a ball 450 feet, I wouldn’t want to reach on a dropped third either.
Where was I? Suzuki took off like a lightning bolt when the ball bounced. Mastrobuoni did a decent job getting it in gear too. Such that there really wasn’t a play anywhere. The Cubs cut the deficit to one on a strikeout. I suspect that only the fact that this Sox team has been such a disaster this year saved thousands of TVs from being smashed during the fifth inning. The run scoring moved the Sox chances of winning down to 64.1 percent. That one run was worth just about 10% (the runner moving up to third also impacts it).
Still work to do. Mastrobuoni stole second. Man, the Cubs ran wild on the Sox in this series. Between coaches, players and whatever fans are still invested in this season, this game made them seethe. With the steal, the odds nudge down to 62.6 percent. And then Yan Gomes took a healthy fastball off his wrist. It at least looked to be a grazing shot. The Sox chances at winning are down to 60.6 percent and you just know that WPA hasn’t watched the mess that is the 2023 Sox.
Here’s Tauchman again. Does it seem like he is totally dialed in every time there is a significant at bat? I’m sure I’m imagining that. But he’s really had an out of this world summer with the Cubs. A guy I had never heard of previously, despite the Bradley Brave connection, has become one of my favorite guys to root for. He worked a walk and the game was tied. With the bases still loaded, the odds actually tilt in the Cubs’ favor as they now have a 54 percent chance of winning.
But how is this gonna go? Nico Hoerner has been huge with men on base and he’s pretty elite at getting his bat on the ball, for better or for worse. But Joe Kelly’s pitches were all over the place. Patience isn’t always a Hoerner trademark. He was restrained here though and took another walk. The Sox walked in the tying and lead runs. The Cubs chances of winning jumped to 66.5 percent. From the first pitch of the inning to the last, the Cubs had three hits, three walks, two hit by pitches and a dropped third strike. They plated six runs. They chased two Sox pitchers. Most importantly, they increased their chances of winning by 53 percent.
The rest, as they say, is history. You never know what to believe out of the flood of blurbs on social media, but I did see a plausible one during the day on Wednesday afternoon. It said that the Cubs had basically resigned themselves to being sellers at some point in the not distant future. But this streak had the desired outcome, management at minimum has decided to hold out. Obviously there were some not good things including a rough outing by Marcus Stroman and a mental error by Cody Bellinger of all people.
There was also an amazing comeback. And I’m going to give some extra credit to this one. Not dismissing the game where you get a barrage of hits and flip the script, but this was a different kind of comeback. This took a lot of discipline and patience. Cubs hitters forced White Sox pitchers to make 53 pitches in the fifth inning alone. I didn’t see the final breakdown on the inning but I’d have to imagine more of those pitches were balls than strikes. The Sox were more than happy to give this one away, but the other team has to execute to take what they are giving. The Cubs did that.
They move to St. Louis with five straight wins, the first three of which came against the Cardinals, ending the best stretch of baseball the Cardinals had to date. It’s always fun when they’ve won six of 10 and you beat them three out of four in that stretch. The Cubs head to St. Louis just 4½ games out of the third wild card. One of those teams is the Reds, who they have a good number of games left against. It ain’t over. 24-15 since they left Anaheim on June 8. It’s an incredible stretch. The schedule picks up quickly after this next series, but let’s take care of business again this weekend and see if management can shake a few trees and find some complimentary pieces to help these guys down the stretch.
Three Star Performances of the night:
- Ian Happ had a single, a homer, a walk, scored two and drove in two. His homer late in the game gave the Cubs a bit of breathing room and allowed their relievers to attack more aggressively.
- It’s probably criminal that I started with a hitter. The Cubs bullpen faced 18 hitters and recorded the final 17 outs of the game. One hit. No walks. Four strikeouts. But they didn’t need ’em. The “A” relievers have been logging a lot of work with all of the winning, so getting contact can reduce pitches. Javier Assad inherited two runners from Marcus Stroman. Another run or two could have put this into pull a couple of starters territory. Instead, five up five down to get the Cubs through the fifth. He grabs a win because of the comeback on his watch. It isn’t lost on me that He had 31 minutes between the two outs and getting back on the mound for the other three.
- For what it’s worth, Assad has been dominating, albeit generally in low leverage spots. But Julian Merryweather has had a bit of a rough month. To be fair, he was the reliever that allowed the one hit. I’ll take seven batters, six outs out of any reliever in any situation. Julian did strike out two. For everything the offense did, this comeback can’t happen without the lockdown out of the pen.
Game 101, July 26: Cubs 10 at White Sox 7 (50-51)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.273). 2-3, BB, HBP, 2 RBI R, SB
* Nico singles to tie it in the second (.106), walks to give the lead in the fifth (.135)
- Hero: Julian Merryweather (.195). 2 IP, 7 batters, H, 2 K
- Sidekick: Seiya Suzuki (.103). 0-2, 3 BB, R, SB, K, CS
- Billy Goat: Marcus Stroman (-.452). 3⅓ IP, 22 batters, 9 H, 2 BB, 7 R, 4 K
*Marcus records the ninth-worst WPA score by a Cub this year (he also has the eighth, in addition to two of the top four best scores).
- Goat: Dansby Swanson (.145). 0-5, 4 K
- Kid: Cody Bellinger (-.062). 1-5, HR, RBI, R
WPA Play of the Game: Mike Tauchman batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning, the Cubs down one. The run expectancy after the bases are loaded with two outs is .77. That’s a pretty interesting number, because there certainly isn’t anywhere near a 77 percent chance of a hit or walk there. Of course, A) there are a number of possibilities to score a run like wild pitch, passed ball or errors. But B) a single usually scores two and a double often scores three. So this is definitely a spot where that number is very much rooted in crooked number outcomes. Tauchman walked to tie the game, leading to the unusual walk-walk two out rally. (.136)
*White Sox Play of the Game: Eloy Jimenez batted with the runners on second and third with one out in the first inning of a scoreless game. He singled and two runs scored. (.105)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Javier Assad (5 batters, 5 outs, 2 strikeouts, 2 inherited runners stranded)
Adbert Alzolay (IP, 3 batters, 10 pitches, SV)
Ian Happ (2-4, HR, BB, 2 RBI, 2 R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Dansby Swanson (Superhero is 69-31)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Cody Bellinger +19
- Ian Happ +17.5
- Marcus Stroman +15
- Justin Steele +12
- Mike Tauchman +11
- Julian Merryweather -10.5
- Michael Fulmer -11
- Patrick Wisdom -13
- Jameson Taillon -15
- Trey Mancini -20
Up Next: A trip to St. Louis for four games in the most boring city in the Midwest. The Cardinals are 46-57, a half game ahead of the Pirates in the Central and thus the fourth worst record in the NL. The Cardinals could start selling off pieces at any time. Though in fairness, they surely don’t remember how to be on that end of the call. That team is always in contention.
Justin Steele (10-3, 2.95, 103⅔ innings) gets the call for the Cubs in the opener. He has dazzled against the Cardinals this year. He’s allowed six runs in 181⁄3 innings and has been the winning pitcher in all three. It sure would be great if he could make it four for four. Justin threw 100 pitches in his last start, just the second time he has done so this year.
Miles Mikolas (6-5, 4.33, 126⅔ innings) is scheduled to start for the Cardinals. The 34-year-old righty is coming off of a start on Saturday in which he allowed five runs in five innings of work. The Cubs pounded out 11 hits and drew a walk. Mikolas has had one good start and one bad against the Cubs and didn’t notch a decision in either one. He’s allowed six runs in just 9⅓ innings of work.